In January 2019, a salvage excavation was conducted at Ramat Bet Shemesh (Permit No. A-8430; map ref. 200213–305/622901–90), prior to the construction of Neighborhood E1 (He 1). The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by the Tzafira Cohen – Bet Shemesh Soho on the Park Company, was directed by J. Tiano (field photography), with the assistance of R. Abu-Halaf and N. Nehama (administration), A. Keinan (safety), S. Halevi (photogrammetry and field photography), A. Rose (drafting) and Y. Zelinger and A. De Groot (guidance).
The excavation took place on the northeastern slopes of hill on which Horbat Bet Natif is situated and south of Khirbat Umm edh-Dhiyab (Fig. 1). Excavations and surveys have been carried out in the area in the past (Nagorsky 2010; Dagan 2010; 2011; ‘Adawi 2015; Permit Nos. A-7268, A-7535). Prior to the excavation, a rock-cut vertical shaft was uncovered at the site (Permit No. A-8011), but its excavation was not completed. The current excavation revealed that the shaft led to a columbarium complex that apparently saw secondary use as a dwelling. The roof of the columbarium cave was removed prior to the excavation with a mechanical tools due to safety concerns.
The excavation of vertical shaft was completed (L2; diam. c. 1 m, depth c. 2 m; Figs. 2–4). It was cut into nari rock and led to the columbarium cave (c. 6 × 7 m, depth 6 m), which was hewn into soft chalk. The excavation of the cave was not completed for safety reasons. Fourteen niches were carved into the walls of the cave; they were poorly preserved due to natural erosion of the rock. Four of the niches were carved in the cave’s northeastern wall. They were rectangular or round (average diam. c. 0.3 m, average depth c. 0.2 m; Fig. 5), and above them ran a hewn horizontal groove (length 3.4 m, height 0.2 m). A trial trench (L6; 1.5 × 2.5 m, depth c. 0.5 m; Fig. 6) was cut down the center of the cave, reaching the cave’s bedrock floor. The floor was covered with a layer of light-colored soil (L4; thickness c. 0.5 m) and an upper layer of brown alluvium (L3; thickness c. 1 m), mixed with numerous animal bones, several sherds and fallen stones. Remains of soot were found on the cave’s ceiling, perhaps evidence of its later use as a dwelling.
Well-preserved columbaria caves are well known in the Judean Shephelah (Zissu 1996). The cave uncovered in the current excavation was apparently part of the agricultural hinterland of Horbat Bet Natif during the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods.
‘Adawi Z. 2015. Ramat Bet Shemesh, Khirbat Umm edh-Dhiyab. HA-ESI 127.
Dagan Y. 2010. The Ramat Bet Shemesh Regional Project: The Gazetteer (IAA Reports 46). Jerusalem.
Dagan Y. 2011. The Ramat Bet Shemesh Regional Project: Landscapes of Settlements: From the Paleolithic to the Ottoman Periods (IAA Reports 47). Jerusalem.
Nagorsky A. 2010. Bet Shemesh, Survey of Ramat Bet Shemesh Area. HA-ESI 122.
Zissu B. 1996. Two Herodian Columbarium Towers at Khirbet ‘Aleq and Khirbet Abu Hof. Qadmoniot 112:100–106 (Hebrew).